NFC North Breakdown: Week 9

(Dan Zinski writes for The Viking Age, which is FSB’s Minnesota Vikings blog. Representing the rest of the NFC North are Bear Goggles On, Lombardi Ave. and SideLion Report.)

The Bears staved off a frisky Lions team to take sole possession of first.  The Vikings got their game on at home in the meantime while the Packers ground it out on the road in Tennessee.

Chicago Bears (5-3):

Looking Back:  The Bears took care of business at home against Detroit – but not without having to sweat it out.  Things actually seemed pretty dire for Chicago after the Lions threw up 23 in the second quarter to lead 23-13 at the half, and Kyle Orton went down with an ankle injury that looked like it might be severe.  Enter Rex Grossman – and exit victory?  Well, Grossman didn’t exactly light it up in the second half: He only managed 58 yards on 19 attempts and of course threw a pick.  But he also got the Bears on the board in the third with a TD to Rasheid Davis and he scored a rushing TD to give Chicago the lead in the fourth.  The defense got their stuff together in the second half and shut out the Lions, the big play coming on a Craig Steltz interception with Detroit driving early in the fourth.  The Bears escaped with a tough win and, the way things went in the rest of the division, sole possession of first.

Looking Forward:  The Bears get a crack at undefeated Tennessee at home.  The Titans have so far downed the Packers and Vikings, but both those games were in Nashville.  Unfortunately for the Bears, they will have to tackle the NFL’s best team with Rex Grossman at QB instead of Kyle Orton, who will miss at least a month with a high ankle sprain.  And how much confidence can we have in a Bears defense that gave up 41 to Minnesota then suffered a 23 point quarter against Detroit?  Yes the Bears keep finding ways to win, but those semi-miracles will likely get tougher to conjure with Tennessee and then 3 straight road games, two inside the division.

Detroit Lions (0-8):

Looking Back:  The Lions looked good early against the Bears, building a 23-13 lead at the half and seeing Kyle Orton get carted off the field.  And then in the second half…uh, they turned back into the Lions.  Yeah, they got beat by Rex Grossman.  They got shut out in the second half by a Bears defense that is decidedly not your father’s Bears defense (or even your older brother’s Bears defense).  They lost despite a big game from Calvin Johnson and another decent effort from Dan Orlovsky (who did however kill them in the fourth by throwing a pick, and now has an injured thumb).  If you can’t win a game you lead by 10 at the half against a team who has to go to their terrible back-up QB and hasn’t been able to stop your offense all day…well, then what game can you win?

Looking Forward:  The Bataan Death March returns home with a game against Jacksonville.  The Lions have learned that Dan Orlovsky will miss the next couple of weeks with an injured thumb – good thing they’ve signed Daunte Culpepper who will now likely get thrown into the fire (unless Rod Marinelli prefers to go with Drew Stanton who has more experience in the offense).  The Lions are now halfway to 0-16…but no one seriously thinks they’re going to go 0 for the season, do they?  Detroit will probably squeak out a win or two in the second half – maybe they’ll even get one against a Jacksonville team that hasn’t exactly been tearing it up.  I wouldn’t bet the house on it though.

Green Bay Packers (4-4):

Looking Back:  We knew it would be tough for the Packers in Tennessee.  We also knew they were a pretty good football team that would give the Titans a good look at their first loss.  It turned out to be a really good look – Rob Bironas missed a chance to end the game in regulation and the contest went to overtime tied 16-16.  Too bad for the Packers they lost the toss.  The Titans rode rookie sensation Chris Johnson right down the field, giving Bironas a chance at redemption that he wouldn’t miss.  What would’ve been an impressive upset victory for the Pack turned into a 19-16 loss and a tie for second in the division at 4-4.  Nothing to hang their heads about though.  Aaron Rodgers played another decent game, thanks largely to Donald Driver who was brilliant.  Michael Montgomery was a beast on defense with 10 tackles and a sack.  This is the best 4-4 team in the league.

Looking Forward:  Round two against the Vikings is this weekend at the Metrodome.  Aaron Rodgers was fantastic the first time around and figures to be even better considering Minnesota’s pass defense issues.  Of course, we all know what a house of horrors the Dome can sometimes be for Packers quarterbacks – Brett Favre was only 6-10 there in his career, though he won on 4 of his last 5 trips.  Rodgers should get plenty of chance to show off his arm, considering how well the Vikings defend the run, and how punchless the Packers’ running game has been much of this year.  The scoreboard might well get lit up like a pinball machine Sunday, balls flying around like nothing since the Favre/Culpepper days.

Minnesota Vikings (4-4):

Looking Back:  The Vikings showed one thing all good teams need to show – the ability to defeat an inferior team at one’s own stadium.  The inferior team was Houston, who were also looking to get to .500 on the year, and figured to feature stud wide receiver Andre Johnson.  The Vikings figured to throw everything they had at Johnson and at QB Matt Schaub in hopes of slowing them down.  They succeeded – Johnson had a middling day and Schaub got knocked out in the first half.  Sage Rosenfels put up huge pass numbers in the second half but the Vikings countered with Adrian Peterson who started rattling off big runs like it was 2007 all over again.  And Gus Frerotte had one of his best games, throwing three TDs and only one pick.

Looking Forward:  The Vikes hope to even the score against Green Bay who beat them at Lambeau Week 1.  A victory would mean a four game home winning streak for the Purple, a one game lead on the Packers with the head-to-head even and likely a share of first (considering the Bears will be playing Tennessee with Grossman at the helm).  All they have to do is knock Aaron Rodgers around, figure out some way to cover Donald Driver and unleash Adrian Peterson who feels like he’s building up to some crazy 200+ yard explosion.  Unfortunately, the specter of a potential double-Williams suspension still looms over this team, and now Jared Allen is banged up too.  If the defensive line is decimated, this team can pretty much pack in the season.  I like Gus Frerotte but he’s no Barack Obama – he can’t work miracles.

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